20 December 2006. An early Christmas present from my oldest brother: three tickets for me, my Mum and Dad to see the Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty in Covent Garden.
It was only meant to be a nice evening out—a treat—getting dressed up and going to see a ballet in London. It wasn’t meant to be a life-changing experience.
Like many other little girls, I’d been to ballet classes but never quite got the knack. I was stampy and fidgety and prone to talking when I should have been listening to Miss Norma. Since quitting aged six, dancing had just meant jumping around my bedroom, doing routines at school discos or trying to copy moves from Strictly. The last tutus and pointe shoes I’d seen had been on the cartoon hippos in Fantasia.
So walking through the doors of the Royal Opera House as an eighteen-year-old, I had no expectations. I was intimidated by the high-ceilinged glass hall, echoing with chatter and clinking glasses, and intrigued by the red-carpeted corridors, which led to the gilt and velvet splendour of an auditorium that glowed in the golden light of hundreds of small lamps.
Our seats were in the steeply raked Amphitheatre. My Mum and I climbed down the stairs clinging to the handrail, knees trembling, but our spinning heads soon adjusted to the height.
Tchaikovsky’s atmospheric music—already familiar from repeated watches of the Disney film—drifted from the orchestra pit out into the auditorium, casting its spell. A blue and lilac world of fairies and princes, palaces and curses paraded across the stage, beautiful and entertaining, but it was the Rose Adagio in act I that had me transfixed.
I could hardly breathe as Princess Aurora moved between her suitors, plucking roses from their hands, turning and balancing en pointe as the music built to its climax. With her infectiously bright smile, Marianela Nunez was the perfect Aurora, all joy and sparkle, no sign of tiredness at having accomplished one of the most difficult pieces of choreography in the repertoire. She is my favourite ballerina to this day.
It sounds ridiculously clichéd, but that is the night I fell in love with ballet and my life changed. I’m very lucky that my parents felt the same way and wanted—and were able—to take us back to the Royal Opera House repeatedly to see more ballets. Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Jewels, La Fille Mal Gardée: the stack of scarlet programmes on the bookshelf grew higher as each year we saw one or two more, each performance a cherished memory.
Since moving away from London, I’ve expanded my horizons watching performances by other companies and in other dance disciplines, eagerly soaked up every Royal Ballet cinema screening and live-streamed rehearsal, and even started adult classes myself. (I hope Miss Norma would be proud.) It’s a passion that I know will never leave me, and it all started under the gilded ceiling of the Royal Opera House fourteen years ago.